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Plants & Gardens Blog

Eat Local: Late Season Tomato Tips and Easy Salsa Recipe

Homegrown tomatoes seem like a summer staple, but most tomato plants actually produce well into September or even October. Expect to be able to harvest or buy ripe ones at the farmers’ market until the first frost. Maximize your late tomato harvest with a few tips, and keep reading for a delicious and easy salsa recipe.

Top Tomato Harvest Tips

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so add a little compost side dressing and keep watering to help them finish the season strong. Have sharp clippers or scissors handy and a basket or shallow bucket so tomatoes don’t get crushed when picking.

  • Tomatoes: Don’t twist or pull! Cleanly clip about one inch above the fruit, then trim the peduncle (fruit stalk) to about a quarter inch. Place the tomato upside down in your harvest basket so the stem does not puncture other fruit. I have trouble with squirrels that like to nibble, mostly because they are thirsty when it is dry. I often harvest tomatoes when they just start to blush or are partially ripe and let them finish ripening inside away from critters.
  • Cherry tomatoes: Just tickle or give a gentle tug and they will fall into your hand. Collect in a small berry box or recycled container so they don’t get squished.
  • Green tomatoes: Recipes for green tomatoes abound, yet if it’s the end of September and you want more red ones, cut off all the flowers and any small fruit. That will signal to the plant to hurry up and ripen the medium and large fruit that’s left. By mid-October, watch the weather—frost will turn tomatoes into inedible mush. If a light frost is predicted, cover plants with row cover or a light sheet to protect them. If a hard frost is predicted, harvest everything and ripen indoors. Sun is not needed for ripening—wrapped in newspaper in a cardboard box works too.

Don’t wash tomatoes until you are ready to eat them. Store at room temperature for best flavor. If tomatoes are getting overripe, it’s okay to refrigerate them, but there will be some loss of flavor and they can become mealy.

If you have an overabundance of tomatoes, an easy way to preserve for future use is to freeze them in quart-sized bags. Squeeze out all the air—yes, this will squish them. Freeze flat until frozen solid, and then they can be stacked. When frozen tomatoes thaw, the skins are easy to slip off. It’s nice to enjoy some of your own “frozen tomato sunshine” in sauce or soup on a cold winter day.

Recipe: Not-Too-Late Salsa

Not just for chips or tacos, this versatile topper can go over grilled zucchini, fish, tofu, or chicken cutlet. Or enjoy a dollop wrapped in a lettuce leaf or cabbage cup, or just eat with a spoon.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, peaches, plums, pears, or cucumbers, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • ½ large red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 medium lemon or lime, or 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • ½ cup or more chopped fresh herbs like basil, shiso, cilantro, or parsley
  • 1 hot pepper, minced, shake of red pepper flakes, or squirt of hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Prepare all ingredients through garlic and combine in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss lightly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes so flavors meld. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

The Eat Local series features seasonal, locally available ingredients and recipes. It was the recipienct of a 2016 Silver Medal for Blog Writing from the Garden Writers Association.

Maureen O’Brien is the community field manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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